Tips For Becoming A Travel Blogger

I frequently get emails from people that are either considering starting a travel blog or that recently started a blog of some sort and want advice on how to build traffic.

Even though I’ve been blogging for over six years now, let me be the first to say that I’m hardly an expert on blogging, and never started this with the intention of making it my full time job. For that matter I don’t think I made a single dime for the first two years I blogged (I mean, literally not a single dime, the blog didn’t even have Google AdWords).

So it truly always has been and always will be a labor of love, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

While I don’t think I’m qualified on “coaching” others to blog, I learn something new every day, and have had an epiphany or ten over the past six years. So I figured I’d share some of the blogging tips I wish I had picked up earlier.

In no particular order, here we go:

Have a unique viewpoint

I’m often asked whether I think there’s still space in the “market” for more travel blogs, or more miles and points blogs, or aviation blogs, or what have you. My answer is always the same – there’s always room on the internet for more unique content.

The unique content can come in the form of covering a unique subject matter/niche, or just having a totally different perspective on things than everyone else.

Let me give an example. If you’re a lawyer that’s obsessed with miles and points and want to write about the industry with an “insider’s perspective” of a lawyer, I think that could be interesting. After all, there are many “grey areas” when it comes to tickets, contracts of carriage, etc.

Meanwhile being a third year med student isn’t inherently something “unique” for the purposes of a travel blog. Some people seem to think that as long as no other blogger is at the same “place” in life as them their perspective is unique. I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

But the most important thing is to show your personality, because that in and of itself can be a unique viewpoint. There’s no right or wrong way of “showing personality,” but personally I love reading blogs where the writer is passionate and has a unique writing style.

Content is king

This sounds so obvious, but to be honest it amazes me how many times people get this wrong. There are lots of pretty blogs with all kinds of cool integrated widgets and features, but they’re lacking content.

And I’ll often get emails from bloggers where that’s the case that are asking for advice on how to build traffic, and I always struggle with a nice way to say either a) “you just don’t post enough” or b) “your content just isn’t interesting enough to differentiate you.”

Now ultimately there are good “blogging practices” that can do a lot to further increase traffic. But good content definitely comes before good SEO.

Rome wasn’t built overnight… and neither is the readership of a blog

My approach to blogging has always been very simple, perhaps because I never intended to make it my job. I write the content for myself. Now, I’m not saying my content is necessarily good or interesting, and yes, I should think about what my audience is, but the truth is that for the first two years I hardly had any traffic. But I didn’t get discouraged, because I wasn’t writing for my Google Analytics page, but for myself.

Google Analytics Graph

Six years is a long damn time to sit down every day and write something (though Gary has been doing it much longer than that), and the truth is that traffic grows massively every year, but you wouldn’t realize that if you’re micro managing your Google Analytics page. A watched pot never boils – if you’re proud of the content you’re putting out, don’t focus too much on the results at first, in my opinion.

Write for yourself, focus on content, and don’t expect you’ll be getting hundreds of thousands of pageviews per month in your first year of blogging.

Post consistently, frequently, and in a way that engages people

Ultimately this probably fits under the “content is king” header. If you want to maximize traffic, post consistently, post frequently, and engage people. Post consistently in the sense that you want people to check back often. If you make one post every two weeks then chances are you’ll have a hard time building a loyal following.

Conversely, there’s nothing wrong with posting two or three times a week, as long as it’s consistent and people know when they can expect the content. Chris Guillebeau is a great example of someone that doesn’t post all that often, but does publish thought provoking posts consistently, so people know exactly what to expect.

Similarly, know when people are reading your blog. For example, my blog gets the most traffic mid-morning on the two coasts of the US and then again after lunchtime on both coasts. While I don’t always do a good job publishing content then, I do aim to post around the times that I get the most traffic on my blog.

I want my blog to be a community where people are engaged and commenting, and they’re much more likely to do that when I’m posting around the same time that they’re reading, so that makes sense for me.

For example, I get very little traffic between 10PM PT and 4AM PT. So if I published a post at 1AM PT every day it would more or less “sit” for three hours before it picked up meaningful traffic.

Meanwhile it would generate a lot more discussion, comments, and interest, if it were published while people were actually online.

Do it for the passion

This is more my general approach to life than specific to blogging. You’ll ultimately be much more successful if you’re passionate about the subject matter.

There’s no “quick money” to be made in travel blogging, or probably any blogging, as far as I know.

Long term you can certainly turn it into a living if you do a good job, and I’m very grateful to be able to do what I love every day, but all the time I see blogs that pop up, go 110% in, and then quit a few months later when they realize that blogging won’t fund a second home in Cannes overnight (or at all, for that matter).

Don’t be discouraged by the comments – what other people think of you is none of your business

People say mean $*&^ about me all day every day in the comments section, via email, etc. When I first started blogging it really bothered me. What could I do to wrong someone so much that they are taking time out of their day to let me know how much I suck?

And then a little while in I realized that what other people think of me isn’t really any of my business. Don’t get me wrong, my single favorite part of blogging is interacting with you guys. Literally, that’s what makes my day.

And I appreciate all constructive feedback, be it positive or negative. I’m wrong a lot of the time, and I learn from that. That’s why I love constructive negative comments, because they allow me to change and improve things.

But when I say “what people think of me is none of my business” I’m referring to the hateful comments that aren’t constructive.

That’s because those people will leave troll comments on the internet, whether it’s on my blog or elsewhere. They’re insecure and they leave them to feel better about themselves. I mean, I can’t help but feel bad for someone that takes time out of their day to consistently leave comments on a website to say how much they hate it.

So my approach to negative blog comments is similar to my approach to TripAdvisor. I don’t use TripAdvisor to read individual reviews and make decisions based on that, but rather look for consistent comments/feedback. If people are consistently pointing out how much one part of my blog sucks, then it’s time to change it. But if it’s one person here or there, I don’t let it bother me one bit.

Be social and interact with others

When you’re first starting out blogging, this is the single most valuable thing you can do. How can you be social? I’d recommend leaving comments on other blogs and being active on Twitter, Facebook, and other frequent flyer communities.

Make your social contributions as organic as possible.

Generally unless it’s breaking news I’m not a fan of people Tweeting a handful of bloggers to make them aware of a post they wrote. That feels forced, and I think you’ll get much further by contributing to the community in an organic way.

Bottom line

Hopefully that’s at least a bit helpful. If you have any questions about blogging feel free to let me know and I’ll do what I can to answer them.

I’d also love to hear from fellow bloggers with any tips they’ve found helpful, and of course feedback on what I’m doing in my little corner of the internet in general is always welcome.

Comments

  1. Brilliant and honest advice,I appreciate this.i recently started a travel blog in my niche just for the passion. I received many emails saying i should run it as a business but I love this too much. 🙂 I decided to grow organically out of my passion rather than run before I can walk. Your article showed me im on the right path. Thank you

  2. Eventually, the blog will need commissions to sustain activity. How do you recommend small time bloggers to get affiliate links from Chase and Citi? It almost seems as though if you are not a big time blogger already, you don’t stand a chance to compete.

  3. While I have no interest in blogging, I found your advice excellent. Your posts are always varied, interesting and well written. Thanks for the great job you do for us all.

  4. @AI – I will chime in on this. I started writing my blog in 2002. In late 2004 or early 2005 Randy Petersen put up “BlogAds” on my page that sold for ~ $40 a week, and I told him to keep the revenue to offset whatever costs he incurred in hosting me.

    I literally spent years writing my blog without a check.

    And without the intention of getting a check, either. I wrote for myself. I wrote for the joy of it on its own, for the interaction with readers. It was never a business.

    Lucky really already answered your question. You have to start with content. You need to develop an audience. And only when you already have that are you going to be interesting to advertisers or card issuers.

    The very existence of Google Adwords is a huge advance for small readership websites. There wasn’t any good way to sell advertising space at all when I started, if you didn’t have a big readership you couldn’t sell ads at all — just like it’s not going to be worth the time for a credit card issuer or other marketer to work with you. There is a fixed cost on their side (largely time) in handling sites, so there has to be enough readership to justify that investment.

    Beyond that, without a significant readership credit card links won’t do much for you anyway. There’s this myth about some vast revenue stream that flows in by having credit card links when in truth that’s just one way to receive revenue that all starts with having a lot of readers.

    And having a lot of readers takes good content, frequent content, and time.

    Bottom-line in my view, and I could be wrong but it’s my opinion after blogging about miles and points for nearly 12 years, there are no short cuts.

  5. I don’t get people who complain about the CC referral links. The way I see it, it’s a win-win where the blogger can make a little extra which in return enables him to travel more and have more interesting content.

  6. @J-D

    The problem with some of the bloggers who have referral links is that they fail to either mention better offers for the same credit card or they just don’t mention the other good or better credit cards that don’t pay them a dime. So you can see that the content is driven by the blogger thinking about his/her pocket before the reader’s interests.

  7. Great post Ben! I have no interest in becoming a travel blogger, but visit yours religiously, and its nice to see what goes into creating the work you do! Keep up the great work.

    -DD

  8. @ Al — Much like what Gary said, that’s why at the end of the day you have to do it as a hobby/passion. 99% of bloggers don’t make anything resembling a living wage from doing it. It’s a labor of love and I certainly never thought I’d be able to make a living writing a blog.

    I don’t think there’s any way to “force” a blog to be successful. In other words, I don’t think you can set out to start a blog tomorrow and create a five year business plan. At the end of the day you need a big readership (and the stuff that comes with it) to make a living blogging, and there’s no way to force that other than being passionate and pouring a countless number of hours into it while probably on average making less than minimum wage.

  9. First of all, I love this blog. It makes me happy to read it every day.

    Second, content is king is SO right. I work in marketing and solving for the number of clients who want to tweet or have a Tumblr but won’t pay for a constant stream of content is one of the biggest battles I fight all the time.

    So yeah – agree with everything here. And thank you.

  10. Thanks so much for the helpful advice. I am literally just starting out in travel blogging, although I’ve been playing the travel game since you were in grade school (you look young…so I’m assuming:)). Coming from a completely different background, work-wise, this blogging thing is much harder than it looks. I appreciate you offering this kind of advice. It’s definitely a hobby and not a job, for me at least (I have one of those full time job things already and the grad school loans to prove it).

    I imagine that negativity would be frustrating, but then you read the horrifying comments some people make on other types of stories & you realize there are just some lunatics out there. Guess it’s best to develop a tough skin. Keep up the great work!

  11. Thanks for the advice. Sometimes it feels we are alone in the wilderness when writing about a subject we love. I will say that looking at Google Analytics is still helpful, but the key is to look at every little gain as a small victory. Getting another 1,000 views in a month really motivates me to do more.

  12. Great post! I just started out recently blogging from the perspective of family travel, especially those with larger families.

    I felt the same way you mentioned above – that most of the blogs out there focus a lot on travel for single folks or couples with no kids. Sure, there are a few family-oriented blogs but not as many as the other ones I think

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  13. All good stuff. Milenomics is a blog which only started recently but clearly has a ‘position’ and is well regarded for that. Same with Frequent Miler 18 months ago. Loyalty Lobby has also done a good job of taking over the hotel promos space in a relatively short period.

    I agree that social interaction is key. I am amazed how few bloggers post over at Flyertalk, even though it is a great way to pick up traffic if you are consistently helpful (and that does not mean only answering a question when you can slot in a link to your site!). I could not have built my site without having my FT reputation as a platform.

  14. I think your advice about “content is king” sounds good in theory, but not in practice

    Many blogs, but in particular TPG and MMS have seen their readership skyrocket over the years, even as the quality of their contented has plummeted over that time (I find it hard to believe that Gary still believes MMS should be on his blogroll).

    They have made fortunes focusing on being a “brand”, used car/CC salesman, and showing up at the top of Google searches than on providing unique, original content and analysis. Every single post on MMS for the past 2 months has essentially been recycled material or a 300 part trip report

  15. All good advice. Like Lucky says, focus on the content and the reader. If you have enough readers, you’ll find a way to monetize your audience eventually. But it takes so long to get there for most people (if ever) that one needs to be willing to pursue it for non-monetary reasons when beginning …hopefully that mentality will continue once revenue is coming in because it can be tempting to go too far and alienate those readers.

  16. Agree with what Rob says. MMS and TPG are killing Boarding Area in SEO. They are almost always at the top of the list when searching for many points related topics, even though the content is subpar. I always think it is funny that when you google “Boarding Area” the main boarding area page doesn’t even come up in the results. You have to click on Lucky’s page first and then click boarding area to get there. Great for lucky, but not so good for boarding area.
    Anyway Lucky, keep it up! Your blog is far and away the best out there and you always get my referral clicks when I can pass them along.

  17. @ Lucky – Great post!

    From a perspective of the reader, I’d like to mention that one of the main reasons I love this blog is not just awesome trip reports but also “Ask Lucky” section (and, in general, the fact that we can ask a question and get an answer on any blog post).

    Even though Lucky has a business that helps with award booking, he still provides awesome information and help free of charge. And I don’t know if/when Lucky ever sleeps because it seems like it takes no time at all to get a response.

    Anyway, the fact that Lucky responds to questions/comments and gives readers advice without pushing his business, in my mind, generates enormous goodwill. That’s why, for example, when we apply for credit cards we use his links to help out the site.

  18. It would be an entirely different post to talk about the effects of building a buzz and a following based on quality and then what strategies are employed after that.

    Richard Sandoval restaurants start out really fantastic, generate buzz, people go and then they completely fall off… but people keep going at least for awhile.

    And any blogger, regardless of motivations, will go in cycles — because of their own creativity, other trade-offs in their lives, etc. I’ve certainly had spurts where I’m at my best and also where I look back on content and say “wow, I’ve been kind of sucking the last few weeks.” I may not have realized it at the time I was writing, but I realized it later.

    I’m not sure I’m self-aware enough to draw good enough lessons to prevent it from happening in the first place 🙂

  19. I have no interest in writing a blog, despite friends telling me to do so. Much easier to simply tell them to read you, Gary and Brian.

    That said, this was a great and generous article. One more reason to be impressed with you.

    Thanks

  20. I started my blog, Fishing4Deals, because I saw a vacuum in the points and miles community. Even though there are a ton of blogs out there all covering the same news, I find there is still an audience hungry for advice on budget, domestic travel.

    Fishing4Deals is the counterpoint to One Mile at a Time: I am never going to write about traveling in first class or staying at the Park Hyatt, but I can help you plan an inexpensive trip to visit family or a budget vacation using points and other tricks of the trade.

    I agree with Ivan about the “Ask Lucky” column — very helpful for readers!

  21. I always wondered how you dealt with the negative comments…glad you talked about it a little bit. I like your outlook/attitude about it. If it were me, my wrists would have scars on them and I’d have the suicide hotline on speed dial.

  22. Agree 100%! I would add 2:
    1. Friends matter. Both online and IRL. Play nice! Amazed how many treat blog comment sections like middle school.
    2. Look up every once in a while. Your readers don’t all have to come from the same pool. How does your content cross-pollinate ? Having a focus is great but navel gazing…not so much.

    And about income, can you diversify? Always helps not to have all eggs in 1 basket. Think publishing, classes, etc. Then, once you have the content, the sponsors will come looking for you.

  23. i also agree with ivan. i have never seen lucky promoting his award booking business – never! that is so commendable and says so much about his integrity. i’ve actually used his award booking service and have been very pleased with it. good job, lucky!

  24. @ Lucky – Your blog here dates back to june of 2008, but it looks like there were older posts. Are they still alive elsewhere or did they become history?

  25. Great post and advice from everyone. Lucky has been incredibly kind in his advice and quick replies. I started my blog a year ago and knew that it would take time (years) to grow. I attended FTU, TBEX and WDS to meet other bloggers and learn about blogging.
    At the WDS event, I saw a great quote “If you have just one reader and your blog changes their life your blog is enough” and it made me shift perspective- it really has to be something you need to love to do b/c if you watch the traffic, it will never be enough, someone will always have more readers, likes, followers, etc and you will never be happy. The first time I received a “thank you” from a reader for an Easter Island rec, my little blog was enough, it was that simple (for me anyway).
    I’ve also joined twitter travel chats and met folks IRL during my travels and that’s been the biggest benefit of the blog – meeting others that love travel as much as I do.

  26. @Ben- Somehow I feel my questions are rarely answered anymore. I don’t know if that is a contradict to “Be social and interact with others”….It would be nice if you still interact with your readers or response to them.

  27. Lucky,

    Great post! For the past months, I’ve been wanting to start my travel blogs from my (fairly unique, I believe) personal perspective: a graduate student in a long distance relationship. As I have mentioned to you through twitter before, your blog has been an inspiration to think about doing this.

    I’ve realized that as a graduate student, you can get to travel a lot. You get to attend a few conferences a year and sometimes they are in exotic places. Last year I was in London, Montpellier, San Francisco and Sydney, to name a few. Zero expense from my pocket.

    Additionally, I’ve been observing that more and more graduate students are in long distance relationships. Not just in the US but overseas. Success to a long distance relationship is to travel (tell me about it, I’ve been in one for almost 4 years and we are finally going to get married!).

    Without even noticing it, I’ve been getting addicted to the miles/points and elite statuses. I’ve became Silver on Continental in 2009. In 2012, I made Gold with United and in 2014 I made Platinum. Last year 30% of my flights were in Business Class. I have to say, as a student, I’ve had a great travel experiences and I would like to share them with others in my same position.

    Ok, I should stop now and actually write this up as a blog post.

  28. @ Shannon — Sorry you feel that way. I make an effort to respond to as many posts as I can, and looking at your comments (per the email address you use) I’ve responded to a vast majority of them. The only ones I didn’t respond to were ones that I assumed were rhetorical. Sorry if that wasn’t the intent.

  29. I wish that Boarding Area would have more sophisticated search functions – so that you can find reviews of certain hotels or airlines/aircraft more effectively. There’s a lot of good content on Boarding Area that is basically impossible to find.

  30. You jut hit the nail on the head with this post though i must confess that i check my traffic daily. Infact, i open a tab everyday just to monitor my Google Analytic page.

  31. Thanks so much for the great post. I’ve been blogging for a year and a half, mainly just to help friends and friends of friends who travel with kids. It has been a great experience and creative outlet, even though the intent is purely to have a hobby and not a business. But it is nice to see it growing a bit to help a larger audience too.

    (As an aside, it always cracks me up to see the occasional blog traffic come my way because I attended and blogged about Lucky’s San Francisco meet-up over a year ago with his favorite Singapore Airlines flight attendant.)

  32. A very good post and confirmed what I already knew: this is a passion for you first and foremost. There is no way to do it for as long as you have, if it wasn’t.
    I think yours and VFTW blogs are good examples of how content doesn’t have to be ruined by affiliate links. I think, you both separate those two things to the best of your ability . Well, as much as they can be separated. *Cough* Chase *cough* 🙂
    I also agree, that there are no shortcuts when it comes to monetizing. In fact, I think this is probably the worst time to get into it solely for the money. By the time you build an audience, banks will probably stop the gravy train. I hope, you are saving some of that commission money!

  33. Great post Lucky, working on the content, posting nearly everyday! I definitely need to do more commenting on different blogs for the social aspect though.Year in and haven’t made a penny, here’s hoping I make one before that second year!

  34. This post is very helpful for me. I’m very new to the travel blog world and the more I read these types of posts the more I’m reminded that a travel blog – or any blog – MUST be a creative outlet first, and a money-maker second.
    For now, I’m very much enjoying the ride of learning new things and trying out new post formats, writing techniques, photography skills, etc.

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